Betty White’s comedic reversals | The New Yorker

Throughout the month of December, I received a bunch of text messages from a phone number I couldn’t recognize saying, “SKY HAS A NEW ANGEL!” BETTY WHITE DEAD AT 100. CLICK HERE FOR MORE DETAILS. “I knew clicking would lead me into some sort of hellish landscape, so I resisted, but I did Google Betty White anyway and found to my relief that she was still ticking Yet the phishers or spammers or whatever was right about one thing: We all knew that White, pointing at ninety-nine, was a short movie, and somewhere in it. collective unconscious, we knew, with sad anticipation, that Heaven, always crowded at the end of the year, would probably welcome it to the fold in the not so distant future. It was a perfectly constructed clickbait, hanging on to an existing unease. On the flip side of such cynicism, you had People magazine brilliantly dedicating its January 10 cover to a portrait of White and a “Betty White turns 100!” “Funny never gets old” ”title. He was already at the booths when White died on New Years Eve. The show currently sells for up to thirty-nine ninety-nine on eBay, more than six times its newsstand price.

White probably would have found all of this quite funny, as she had a comedic heart and an ironic appetite for weird reversals. There was something about her that always made it seem like she was in the game, playing a weak bulb sexpot or sassy elder, or just declaring her real affection for vodka on the rocks and hot dogs. (There’s a hot dog named after her at Pink’s Hot Dogs in Los Angeles. “The Betty White Naked Dog” is a sausage on a bun, with no condiments, whichever you prefer.) old host “Saturday Night Live,” as she did when she was eighty-eight, it would have been squeaky if it had laughed at the idea, but White surely knew what she was doing . She was a fun person on a fun show who was older than the usual hosts, and she was thrilled with that.

There is a classic Hollywood joke, far too close to the truth, and too painful to be purely a joke, that traces the arc of a career in entertainment. It says, “Who the hell is Joe Blow?” “We need Joe Blow! “Get me the next Joe Blow!” And, finally, “Who the hell is Joe Blow?” White herself experienced this arc a bit: when “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” picked someone for the role of Sue Ann Nivens, the producers asked for a “Betty White guy” that is, the next Betty White. Instead, they hired Betty White.

She hired a black tap dancer, Arthur Duncan, for “The Betty White Show” in 1954, three years before the first federal civil rights law since the passage of Reconstruction, making him one of the first performers. blacks to appear regularly on a nationwide television variety show. White faced criticism of his hiring, saying, “I’m sorry, but he’s staying. . . . Live with it! ”The more objections were raised, the more White (who was the show’s host and producer, almost unknown to a woman at the time) gave Duncan. After calls for a boycott and difficulty attracting sponsors, NBC canceled the show.

She regularly played poker with friends. It was the dealer’s choice, and White generally chose Screw Thy Neighbor, a version of the game where the goal is not to end up with the lowest ranked card at the end of the round but, instead. , to exchange it with your involuntary neighbor. . The winner of the evening took home the group’s engraved brass cup. If the winner forgot to take the cup the next time the group played it was enacted, he or she would either be fined two thousand dollars or killed.

Isn’t it surprising to learn that White and her third husband Allen Ludden, host of the “Password” game show, were good friends with John Steinbeck? Doesn’t that make you appreciate how wonderful she was at playing nuts, since Steinbeck’s starch and thoroughness suggest he wouldn’t have put up with anyone who didn’t have a lot of substance? They were good enough friends that Steinbeck even gave them the first draft of the acceptance speech he wrote for his Nobel Prize in Literature (signed, of course), and allowed his famous dog, Charley, to drool. over a fancy black skirt of hers. . (She saved it in its gooey state, as a remembrance.)

She loved dogs. At one point, she would have had twenty-six. She also had a weakness for gorillas and loved stuffed animals so much that she had reserved an entire room for them. She told Katie Couric that she was “a little strange” when it came to her stuffed animals and, for that matter, “a little strange for all kinds of animals.” When she visited President Obama in the White House in 2012 – she was deprived of her politics, but openly supported Obama – she held her Portuguese water dog, Bo, in her lap. She told the the Wall Street newspaper, about Bo, with his usual zest, “He’s a kissing fool.”

She was asked once if there was something she hadn’t done in Hollywood, and she replied, “Robert Redford”. Goodbye, Betty.

Daniel K. Denny